Preservatives in Cosmetics – Who Needs Them?

Guest blog post from the wonderful Lise Anderson at LisaLise!

“When I started doing my own cosmetics, I chose to work solely with plant-based ingredients, focusing on organic, planet-friendly raw materials. Back then, ‘green’ and ‘natural’ skin care was a niche area. Times have (happily) changed and a ‘green consciousness’ has gained momentum with more ladies (and gents) actively looking for natural solutions to their skin and hair care.

That’s great!

Except when it’s not.

When Going Green isn’t all that Great

Everyone seems to have something to say about ‘toxins’ and ‘dangerous chemicals’ in cosmetics these days. I can’t even begin to count the times I have come across false claims and misinformation – most particularly about preservatives. Misinformation leads to fear, whether it is unintentional – or worse – intentionally caused by scaremongers.

I do understand the growing desire for more natural products – as a matter of fact, I applaud it – but let’s try and put some perspective on preservatives and dispel a few of the circulating myths, shall we?

Do We Really Need Preservatives?

If a product contains even the slightest amount of water, preservatives are necessary. There is no exception to this rule. Bacteria loves water; it thrives and multiplies in a matter of hours in a moist environment. That’s why your creams, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and skin tonics ALL need preservatives to ensure you aren’t slathering yourself with a bacteria-bomb.

LisaLise Guest Blog

Parabens – The Good News

Parabens have been some of the most targeted preservatives in recent years. Much of the misinformation I have repeatedly run across seems to have ‘taken hold’, but guess what:

1. Parabens are Not Dangerous

They do not cause allergies, tumours, or cancer – nor are they dangerous for the environment. Parabens have been around for over 40 years and are some of the safest and most thoroughly tested preservatives on the market. They are approved for use in both cosmetics and foods by the FDA and SCCS. Did you know that the European Scientific Community (SCCS) re-approved the use of propylparaben and butylparaben (after yet another thorough study) in December 2010? Did you also know that ethylparaben and methylparaben have never been under suspicion of anything at all?

2. Some Parabens are Under Study

There are 2 parabens undergoing testing by the SCCS. These 2 are ISObutylparaben and ISOpropylparaben. Even though they have NOT been pulled from the market, some manufacturers have voluntarily dropped these parabens from their products while awaiting the results from the SCCS.

If you are still nervous about using products with parabens, avoid the ‘ISO’ parabens.

All the others are safe.

For the record: because every product I do is made to order, I will happily accommodate any client requesting a paraben-free product. (I confine my lectures and rants about parabens to blog postings).

Antioxidants are Not Preservatives

Don’t confuse antioxidants with preservatives – they are not the same thing. Antioxidants (such as vitamin E and rosemary) are often used to retard the rancidity of oils, but they are not preservatives.

When Preservative-Free is OK

There are 2 instances when it is safe to use a preservative-free product:

1. If the product is anhydrous (completely water-free)

You’ll see this in products like lip balms, lips glosses, salt or sugar-based body scrubs, and some types of body butters.

2. If the product is used within a few hours of being made

For example: some face masks are sold in powder form, where you finish making the product by adding water. Be sure to use up such a fresh-made portion immediately.

The Sky is Falling!

One of the most outrageous bits of misinformation about preservatives I have come across was on the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep ‘database’. It listed polyparaben as dangerous and even referred to test results. The only problem: there is no such thing as polyparaben, and there never has been!

(Read a story about this ‘dangerous’ preservative at the LisaLise blog, and find more here at Colins Beauty Pages).

Curious to Know More?

Please visit the LisaLise ingredient library for more information on preservatives and other ingredients found in skin and hair care products.

For straight talk from a group of cosmetics formulators and experts dedicated to publishing the truth about cosmetics ingredients, visit Personal Care Truth.”

Contact Lise Andersen at

Visit LisaLise Pure Natural Skin Care

Read LisaLise’s Blog


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